Cambodian cooking is all too often overshadowed by the signature dishes of neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam. But don’t be fooled, Khmer cuisine has much to offer…
Local dishes boasts a fusion of strong and vibrant flavours and is much milder than its neighbours, focusing on ensuring each dish contains the perfect blend of salty, sour, sweet and bitter.
Many of the dishes draw inspiration from China and India, the Chinese leaving the legacy of stir-frying and the Indians introducing dried spices such as star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg and fennel.
Add local ingredients, including lemongrass, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, shallots and galangal to the mix. When all are pounded together in a pestle and mortar, they create a paste called kroeung, which is commonly used in Cambodian cooking.
The Kingdom has a rich network of rivers and the ocean to the south, offering a plentiful supply of fresh fish, making it a popular addition to the plates of Khmers. Prahok, a fermented fish paste, is another condiment giving Cambodian cuisine a unique flavour.
No visit to Cambodia would be complete without tasting the traditional dish of fish amok – steamed, curried fish that is coated in kroeung and cooked in a cup made from banana leaves. Beef lok lak is another signature meal, made with diced beef garnished with a piquant lime and pepper dip.
Other popular dishes include the chicken porridge soup that is devoured for breakfast, banana flower salad and rice-based desserts.
And let’s not forget the unforgettable taste of Kampot pepper that perfectly complements freshly-boiled crab.
If all this talk of Khmer food has whet your appetite then there are plenty of great eateries offering expertly cooked Khmer cuisine.
K’nyay is a tranquil place tucked away on St 95. It has an extensive range of vegetarian and vegan options ready to tantalise your taste buds. The menu includes gems like roast pumpkin and pear salad and jackfruit curry.
Dubbed the city’s leading Khmer restaurant, the stylish and chic Malis on Norodom Blvd, is not to be missed. Owned and managed by celebrated Cambodian chef Luu Meng, here you can dine on dishes including sand goby with ginger or beef and bamboo strips. Choose al fresco in the gardens, or inside in the air-conditioned, traditionally decorated restaurant.
Another stylish eatery on St 178 is The Sugar Palm, which has a lengthy offering of delicious Cambodian food, including Cambodian chicken curry, grilled eggplant and spring rolls.
Lemongrass, on St 130, is a popular choice when it comes to high-end Khmer cooking. The chicken and banana blossom salad and pork with Kampot pepper are a must-try for those wanting to sample Cambodia’s balance between sweet and sour.
Considered one of the best Khmer restaurants in town, Kravanh, located near Independence Monument on Sothearos Blvd, dispenses artfully prepared Khmer dishes. Don’t be fool by the venues classy looks: the dishes are actually very reasonably priced. They have a second location in Toul Tom Poung.
Let your hunger have a heart and dine at Romdeng (St. 174). Run by NGO Friends International, who train disadvantaged young people in catering, the food is cooked by trainee chefs and served by young waiters in training. The food ranges from almost forgotten recipes from the provinces to contemporary creative cuisine that will leave you craving for more.
The Corn (St. 268) is a vegetarian friendly Cambodian restaurant, with meat options available, located in a peaceful setting. Their unique menu presents the customer with a range of original dishes that blend Western and Khmer ingredients and cooking techniques.
Dot Grill: Lounge (St.144) truly sizzles with the best of traditional Khmer grilled meats, prepared and served on large skewers. The menu also includes many international all-time favorites. Their focus on quality meats and lengthy marination sets them apart from the rest.